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This paper aims to call attention to a new interpretation of 
John Locke's views on education, by emphasizing the fact that 
his educational writings, like his philosophical contributions, 
characterize him essentially as a pioneer in certain aspects in 
this field of work. The following points will be discussed suc- 
cessively : His life and education ; his position as a philosopher, 
psychologist, and educator; his emphasis on "native propen- 
sities" and periods of child development; his opposition to 
formal discipline ; and his views on the relation of teacher and 
pupil, the dynamic side of child life, and the aim of discipline. 

In order to understand Locke, it is necessary to realize that 
his aims and methods were largely determined by the place and 
time in which he lived and by the schools which he attended. 
His early life was spent at home in the country, where he was 
taught by his father ; this fact explains in part why he favored 
the tutorial form of education. The old stone farmhouse at 
Pennsford, Somersetshire, where he lived from 1 63 2 to 1 646, may 
still be visited. The older section of the house is rapidly going to 
decay and when the writer made inquiries regarding its location, — 
from a blacksmith who has lived for ten years within a stone's 
throw of the old homestead, — the reply was, "I do not know the 
gentleman," and, when informed that Locke died nearly three 
hundred years ago, the answer varied little, — "I never 'erd of the 
gentleman." Fortunately, however, conditions are quite differ- 
ent at Westminster School and at Christ Church College, where 
are found paintings, statues, coats-of-arms, and memorial windows 
in honor of the "pious John Locke", who is considered their 
"most famous student." 

At fourteen Locke entered Westminster School in London, 
where he was associated with Dryden, South, and the renowned 
Dr. Buzby, the headmaster. Dr. Buzby 'taught his school' 
across the street from Westminster Hall during a large part of 
the reign of Charles I, the Commonwealth period, the reign of 
Charles II, James II, and nine years of the reign of William and 
Mary, being headmaster of the school for fifty-seven years. He 

178 The Sezvanee Review 

it was who said, "The rod is my sieve and the boy who cannot 
pass through, is no boy for me." 1 This also was the master 
who refused to take off his hat when the king visited the school, 
for fear the boys might think there was a greater man in the 
kingdom than Richard Buzby, — the great schoolmaster who 
'kept his school' in spite of a revolution, the execution of his 
king, "the threatenings of a great fire and the ravages of a cruel 
plague"; a stern teacher, respected but always disliked by his 
sensitive pupil, who ever after denounced many of his methods. 

It is held by many authorities that Locke was among the 
schoolboys who saw the execution of Charles I in front of 
Whitehall. Of this we are not sure, but we know that his father 
was a colonel in the Parliamentary army; that his life was spent 
in a period of civil and religious fermentation in England; and 
that the rigid discipline and confining life of the school affected 
his delicate health and sensitive nature so that he ever after 
opposed 2 the so-called Public Schools of his time, and subse- 
quently aided in modifying their methods of teaching and dis- 

When Locke left Westminster and entered Oxford, he found 
he was not in sympathy with the predominant classical course of 
study or the prevailing methods of instruction. He continued 
his study for several years, however, and received the degrees 
of A.B., A.M., and M.D. ; later he was expelled. The order 
from Charles II, dated Whitehall, nth day of November, 1684, 
may be seen in the library of Christ Church College. It is 
signed by the Earl of Sunderland, and reads : — 

"Whereas we have received information of the factious 
and disloyal behavior of ... . Locke, one of the students 
of that college, we have thought fit to signify our will and 
pleasure to you, that you forthwith remove him from his 
said student's place and deprive him of all the rights and 
advantages thereto belonging." 

Locke then began to travel, and his long period of preparation 
culminated in productive literary work after he was fifty-seven 

'The Deanery Guide to Westminster Abbey, p. 42. 

'Some Thoughts Concerning Education (Quick Ed.), pp. 74, 138, 150-3. 

John Locke s Contributions to Education 179 

years of age. He died at Oates, in 1704, at the age of seventy- 

It is known that Locke read with care the educational writ- 
ings of Montaigne, but that he was practically unacquainted with 
Ascham, Mulcaster, Ratich, or Commenius, and had paid little 
attention to the great writers of Greece and Rome. His work 
was, in the main, the result of his own observations and re- 
flections, for Locke was a pioneer, — a pioneer in philosophy, 
in that he founded the predominating empiricism of England, 
and, as has frequently been pointed out, laid the foundation for 
the idealism of Berkeley, the skepticism of Hume, the sensation- 
alism of Condillac, and the criticism of Kant ; a pioneer in psy- 
chology, in that he destroyed the faculty psychology of Aristotle 
and established on a substantial basis the introspective method 
of to-day; a pioneer in education, in that he opposed the 
scholastic method and harsh discipline of the schools, favored 
an all-round, wholesome, common-sense education, and paved 
the way for modern child-psychology. His educational writ- 
ings also served as a corrective to the bias of his time by laying 
emphasis on the sympathetic relationship between the teacher 
and pupil and on the dynamic side of child life. 

In Locke's writings on education, psychology, and philosophy 
we find him preeminently critical and a true example of the 
practical Englishman, dealing vigorously, directly, and carefully 
with whatever object he wishes to analyze, but still positive 
rather than negative in his conclusions. The English philoso- 
phers confined themselves to the study of the human mind and 
society from an empirical point of view. Locke was a typical 
English philosopher. He was prosaic and practical, treating his 
problems in a common-sense manner ; he analyzed rather than 
synthesized, — described rather than explained. His chief men- 
tal virtues were sincerity and simplicity, and he was so de- 
voted to the truth that on one occasion he declared, "Whatever 
I write, as soon as I discover it not to be true, my hand shall 
be the forwardest to throw it into the fire." 

The object, or purpose, of Locke's inquiries was to study the 
nature of his own mind, to determine the power of the individ- 
ual and to destroy the scholastic method. His Essay Con- 

180 The Sewanee Review 

cerning the Human Understanding, he asserts, is a copy of his 
own mind, and his method the plain "historical", 3 or as we 
would speak of it, the psychological method. Professor R. B. 
Perry of Harvard 4 has shown, however, that he blends and 
frequently confuses the logical, epistemological, and psycholog- 
ical view-points. 

Locke destroyed the Aristotelian "faculty psychology", es- 
tablished the introspective method, and, with Descartes, laid the 
foundation of modern rationalistic psychology, thus shifting the 
basis for educational theory. Professor James, his greatest 
disciple, goes so for as to maintain that there has been little new 
psychology since Locke ; although it has progressed wonderfully 
in refining its methods of study and in broadening its scope ! 5 

In attempting to combat Descartes' theory of innate ideas, 
Locke apparently takes the opposite extreme in his philosophy 
and holds that knowledge is entirely the product of experience, 
for the mind at birth is an "empty tablet". 6 Descartes never 
gave a very clear definition of "innate ideas", but Locke re- 
garded the idea as an object of consciousness, or, as he states it, 
"Whatsoever is the object of the understanding when a man 
thinks." ' In his philosophical writings he emphasizes the ex- 
ternal evocation of the idea; that is, the relation of ideas to 
the objects from which they have arisen, the epistemological 
point of view. In his educational writings, on the other hand, 
he is continually referring to native tendencies to action. Thus 
his educational theory, contrary to what his interpreters have 
been emphasizing, takes into consideration the fact that there 
are " natural tendencies implanted in the minds of men."" 

This may be illustrated by a number of quotations, but the 
following will give his general point of view. When speaking 
of the education of children, Locke, as an educator, says : — 

"We must not hope wholly to change their original tem- 
pers. . . . God has stamped certain characters upon men's 

3 An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Bohn Ed.), p. 129. 
4 The Approach to Philosophy, p. 273. 5 Talks to Teachers, p. 7. 

6 An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Bk. I. 
' Ibid. p. 134. 8 Ibid. p. 158. 

John Locke ' s Contributions to Education 181 

minds, which, like their shapes, may perhaps be a little 
mended, but can hardly be totally altered and transformed 
into the contrary"; 

and further, — 

" He, therefore, that is about children should well study 
their natures and aptitudes, and see by often trials what 
turns they easily take and what becomes them"; 

and further, — 

"For in many cases all we can do or should aim at, is to 
make the best of what nature has given, to prevent the 
vices and faults to which such a constitution is most in- 
clined, and give it all the advantages it is capable of. 
Every one's natural genius should be carried as far as it could, 
but to attempt the putting another upon him will be but 
labor in vain, and what is so plastered on will at best sit un- 
towardly, and have always hanging to it the ungracefulness 
of constraint and affectation." 9 

"Native propensities," 10 he says, 'should be watched from 
the beginning, in order to discover the individual's capacity 
for knowledge,' for "amongst men of equal education there are 
great inequalities of parts." 11 These quotations indicate that 
Locke does not tack education on to life as is commonly as- 
serted, but makes it dependent on the interest, disposition, tem- 
perament, and the development of the individual from within. 

It further becomes apparent from many of his scattered but 
valuable thoughts on the observation of children, and his sug- 
gestions tending toward a study of mental development and self- 
activity, that there originated with Locke a psychological 
tendency in education, which was later to be developed by 
Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Froebel, and Herbart, evolving into the 
present predominating psychological and biological view-points 
in education, of which the child is the centre of orientation. 
Locke advocated that parents and tutors should "study chil- 
dren's natures and aptitudes", 12 "their native propensities", 13 

"Some Thoughts Concerning Education, p. 40. 10 Ibid. p. 83. 

"On the Conduct of the Understanding (Bohn Ed.), p. 26. 
"Some Thoughts Concerning Education, p. 40. 13 Ibid. p. 83. 

1 82 The Sewanee Review 

"their prevailing inclinations", 14 "their several conditions", be- 
cause acquired habits may be conditioned by these native pro- 
pensities. A study of mental development, though crude and in- 
accurate, is suggested by this and by what follows, for he writes: — 

"Never trouble yourselves about those faults in them [chil- 
dren] which you know age will cure"; 16 

and again, — 

"And if you carefully observe the characters of his [the 
child's] mind, now in the first scenes of his life, you will ever 
after be able to judge which way his thoughts lean, and what 
he aims at even hereafter, when, as he grows up, the plot 
thickens and he puts on several shapes to act it." 16 

This writer perhaps knew nothing of instincts, but he said, to 
quote indirectly, 'Observe carefully for favorable seasons of apti- 
tude and inclination' " and 'teach the child when he is in tune.' 18 
This is similar to Professor James's advice to "Strike the iron 
while it is hot", and to the present-day educational vernacular 
to "appeal to the instincts when they are ripe." 

Habit, it is true, is continually emphasized by Locke and it is 
on this account that Professor Paul Monroe in his History of 
Education has excluded him from the usual classification as a 
naturalist, a realist, or a humanist and posited him as a typical 
representative of the disciplinary education. Monroe emphat- 
ically states : — 

"The one fundamental thing that makes Locke a repre- 
sentative of the disciplinary education throughout is his idea 
of the human mind as a blank to begin with, that it has 
virtues and powers worked into it from the outside through 
its formation of habits. In respect to many other important 
points, as will be seen, Locke agrees with the naturalists 
who, opposing Locke on this point, held that all such powers 
came as the development of powers within, according to a 
wholly natural process. Development, according to Locke, 
came only through the formation of habit through disci- 
pline." 19 

14 Some Thoughts Concerning Education, p. 83. 16 Ibid. p. 43. 

16 Ibid. p. 83. " Ibid. p. 53. 18 Ibid. p. 53. 

19 Text Book in the History of Education, p. 513. 

John Locke 1 s Contributions to Education 183 

Professor Monroe does not give credit for Locke's emphasis on 
the development of the "different temperaments", "natural apti- 
tudes", and "natural inclinations" of the pupil, and does not 
recognize the fact that 'habits' are always limited in their 
application to education and character. Locke was not speak- 
ing of habit in general but of particular habits. It is hardly fair 
to try to posit him as a typical representative of the "Disci- 
plinary Education" of his period, for Professor Monroe defines 
this disciplinary education, of which he makes Locke the chief 
exponent, as follows : — 

"A particular activity of experience, especially of an in- 
tellectual character, if well selected, produces a power or 
ability out of all proportion to the expenditure of energy 
therein ; a power that will be serviceable in most dissimilar 
experiences or activities, that will be available in every situ- 
ation, that will be applicable to the solution of problems pre- 
sented by any subject, however remote in kind from the one 
furnishing the occasion for the original disciplinary ex- 
perience." 20 

It seems highly improbable that Locke ever held this view. 
Although he once said that mathematics should be taught all in 
order to make them (children) reasonable creatures, 21 he ap- 
proached modern psychological insight into the study of the 
transference of mental ability when he said : — 

"But the learning pages of Latin by heart no more fits the 
memory for retention of anything else, than the graving of 
one sentence in lead makes it the more capable of retaining 
any other characters." 22 

He further states, — 

" If men are for a long time accustomed only to one sort 
or method of thoughts, their minds grow stiff in it, and do 
not readily turn to another. It is, therefore, to give them 
this freedom, that I think they should be made to look into 
all sorts of knowledge, and exercise their understanding in 
so wide a variety and stock of knowledge. But I do not 

20 Text Book in the History of Education, p. 508. 

21 On the Conduct of the Understanding, p. 41. 

22 Some Thoughts Concerning Education, p. 154. 

184 The Sewanee Review 

propose it as a variety and stock of knowledge, but a 
variety and freedom of thinking, as an increase of the 
powers and activity of the mind, not as an enlargement of 
its possessions." 23 

It is also apparent that Professor James's view of native re- 
tentiveness in memory, which has so far successfully withstood 
so many attacks, was anticipated by Locke when he said : — 

"But I fear this faculty of the mind [memory] is not ca- 
pable of much help and amendment in general by any 
exercise or endeavor of ours, at least not by that used upon 
this pretence in Grammar Schools." 21 * 

Locke goes further and anticipates what we might consider 
the distinctly American point of view in regard to the relation 
between teacher and pupil. His advice here is excellent and its 
significance in England is to-day keenly realized. The essential 
attitude of parent and teacher is not only that of a critic and 
disciplinarian, but, also underneath it all, that of a friend : — 

"But whatever he [the child] consults you about, unless 
it lead to some fatal irremediable mischief, be sure you advise 
only as a friend of more experience, but with your advice 
mingle nothing of command and authority, nor more than 
you would to your equal or a stranger." 25 

Seek the children's friendship, for all young people are glad 
of sure friends, he implies. 26 

23 On the Conduct of the Understanding, p. 44. u Ibid. p. 154. 

25 Ibid. p. 79. 26 Ibid. p. 80. 

* Since this article was accepted for publication by the Sewanee Review, 
my attention has been called to a doctor's dissertation by Frederick Arthur 
Hodge on "John Locke and Formal Discipline." (Published by the 
author, Winthrop Normal and Industrial College, S. C.) Dr. Hodge's 
point of view is similar to that outlined in this article, and I hasten to insert 
his conclusions in the proof-sheet. He says : — 

" That the evidence adduced tends to show : First, that Locke's philosophy 
and psychology furnish no basis for the dogma in question. Second, that 
he sought to set aside the limited curriculum based upon the disciplinary 
conception of his time, and substitute for it a broader curriculum. Third, 
that he urged the abolition of abstract rules and generalizations in favor of 
concrete specific experiences. Fourth, that Locke's various references to 
education as a discipline may best be interpreted in the light of specific dis- 
ciplines and concepts of method, and such interpretation is consistent with his 

John Locke's Contributions to Education 185 

Locke's Thoughts Concerning Education had gone through 
three editions between 1693-5 and it must have helped to arouse 
public opinion, for in 1698 an Act was asked for in Parliament 
"to remedy the foul abuse of children at schools, especially 
in the great schools of the nation." 27 This Act was not passed, 
and Locke's influence was long delayed in its effect. Over a 
century and a half later Spencer said, "The discipline in these 
schools is worse than that of adult life — much more unjust, 
cruel, brutal." 28 He then calls attention with approval to 
Locke's statement, "Great severity of punishment does but little 
good, nay, great harm, in education, and I believe it will be 
found that, ceteris paribus, those children who have been most 
chastised seldom make the best men." 29 

The dynamic side of child life was frequently emphasized by 
Locke and has occupied a very prominent place in the best edu- 
cational writings of the past few years. "Children are naturally 
active and less apt to be idle than men," 30 said our philos- 
opher, who had caught indirectly the spirit of Plato and had 
anticipated Froebel, when he wrote to his friend, William Moly- 
neus, August 23, 1693 : — 

"I am so much for recreation that I would, as much as 
possible, have all they [children] do be made so ; I am for 
full liberty of diversion as much as you can be, and, upon a 
second perusal of my book, I do not doubt you will find 
me so." 31 

In the book which has been interpreted as advocating the form 
of rigid disciplinary educational point of view of the seventeenth 
century, Locke writes that children enjoy play, — 

"And it is that liberty alone, which gives the true relish 
and delight to their ordinary play game"; 32 

and again, — 

"I have always had a fancy that learning might be made 
a play and recreation to children", 83 

21 W. C. Hazlitt, Schools, School-books and School-masters, p. 25. 

28 Some Thoughts Concerning Education, p. 179. 

29 Ibid. p. 219. 30 Ibid. p. 132. 

31 Ibid., 12th ed., Eng., 1854, Vol. VIII, p. 323. 

32 Some Thoughts Concerning Education, p. 55. 33 Ibid. p. 129. 

1 86 The Sewanee Review 

and, therefore, we should smooth their (children's) way and help 
them readily forward. 34 There should be directed play, S5 and — 

"The chief art [of the educator] is to make all that they 
[children] have to do sport and play, too." 36 

These passages show that Locke opposes the educational bias of 
his time, as is also clear from the following definite statement : — 

"Children love liberty, and therefore they should be 
brought to do the things that are fit for them without 
feeling any restraint laid upon them." 37 "That which par- 
ents should take care of here is to distinguish between the 
wants of fancy and those of nature "; 38 "Children should 
not have anything like work or serious [ness] laid upon them ; 
neither their minds nor bodies will bear it." 39 

To be sure, these are more or less isolated quotations, but is 
this typical of the disciplinary education of the seventeenth 

The Thoughts Concerning Education is full of stimulating ideas 
on the ultimate aim of education, methods of teaching, personal 
hygiene, the aims of good discipline, the kinds, uses, and limi- 
tations of punishments, and on trenchant criticisms of the edu- 
cational practices of the time in which Locke lived, especially in 
his emphasis on a "sound mind in a sound body." His aims 
in discipline are so good, and his view-point so clear, that two 
short quotations will be adequate to explain his theory : — 

"He that has found a way how to keep up a child's spirit 
easy, active, and free, and yet at the same time to restrain him 
from many things he has a mind to, and to draw him to 
things that are uneasy to him ; he, I say, that knows how to 
reconcile these seeming contradictions, has, in my opinion, 
got the true secret of education." 4 ° 

Patterns are to be followed more than good rules, for children 
do much by imitation, since, — 

"We are all a sort of chameleons that still take a tinc- 
ture from things near us."* 1 

34 Some Thoughts Concerning Education, p. 132. 3 ° Ibid. 

36 Ibid. p. 38. " Ibid. p. 83. S8 Ibid. p. 84. 

"Ibid. p. 130. *° Ibid. p. 30. il Ibid. p. 44. 

John Locke's Contributions to Education 187 

Though Locke's educational writings have been neglected by 
many educators, Leibnitz considered the Thoughts superior to 
the Essay s,^ and Horace Mann said as early as 1850, when 
discussing important sources in education, "It would be un- 
pardonable to pass by that admirable treatise, Locke's Thoughts 
on Education. . . . This excellent treatise, which is by far better 
than anything which had ever been written, has been almost 
wholly neglected and forgotten." 43 

Space will not permit at this time a review of the numerous 
mistakes and omissions in Locke's educational work, but suffice 
it to mention that in his comprehensive course of study in which 
he advances modern ideas on object teaching, manual training, 
trade schools, and school gardening, he neglects the cultural 
subjects of art and music. 

Sources in educational tendencies are interesting and in- 
structive, and for a study of the beginning of modern ideas in 
education, one cannot find a more fertile field than the writings 
of John Locke; the pioneer who built better than he knew, but 
whose merits lay in conceiving rather than in carrying to com- 
pletion the conceptions which he formulated. He was not a 
teacher, though his educational writings are preeminently prac- 
tical; his influence was most marked in directing the line of 
thought of the great writers who followed him and in shaping 
popular opinion, rather than in helping the schoolmen of his 
period. He was a pioneer who cleared the field in order that 
others might cultivate. 

Bird T. Baldwin. 

Swarthmore College. 

42 Cited by Compayre, History of Pedagogy (Payne Ed.), p. 196. 
t3 Life and Works of Horace Mann, Mary Mann, II, p. 225.